Have you ever seen the food being served on the 2nd floor by the library and wondered, what is going on here? Well, The New Dealer was lucky to sit down with Ms. Okeefe, of the ISS Department, to find out how FDR’s Cougar Kitchen works!
What is the Cougar Kitchen, and why was it started?
“The the Cougar Kitchen is a culinary program that serves the staff of FDR two days a week with breakfast, lunch, treats, and whatever they decide they need or want. It was started as a work study base program for a special group of students called the ACES students. The program is used to teach them life skills in the form of culinary, hygiene, food preparation, skills with money, and learning how to read instructions for recipes and orders. This program benefits everybody at FDR. However, for ACES students to move towards independent living, they need certain skills like how to cut with a knife properly, and how to properly create sandwiches and meals for themselves. As students master life skills, their responsibilities in the program become more complex.”
What are the greatest challenges and rewards of running the program?
“The greatest challenge is the logging of everything in the building. I do a lot of the shopping on my own personal time, which is a challenge. I’m taking time away from my own family, and I have to be here extremely early. I try to have things set up Thursdays and Fridays for the teachers by 7 am, so I have to be here by 6:15 am. It is a really big challenge to have everything ready so early in the morning. The biggest reward is seeing the ACES students, getting excited when they make that perfect sandwich. Seeing how happy the program makes kids and the staff at FDR, makes it worth the hard work. I am constantly getting emails thanking us for what we do. The kids do everything including the delivery, they help make the shopping list, and prepare everything for Thursdays and Fridays.”
How are veggies grown in the Science Department incorporated into the program?
“With the development of the Science program, it made our lives so much easier. Now instead of just buying lettuce, tomatoes, basil, and things like that from the grocery store, we are now able to use organic materials grown in the school. The Science Department is getting the advantage of learning how to create them, and our kids are getting advantage of using them. Our students go upstairs once a week, and they harbor all of the vegetables that they need for that week’s menu. It has made a lot of our dishes taste a lot fresher! It also helped us to expand our menu, for example making fresh pesto. The kids are enjoying it a lot more, because now they see how its growing and how it is used.”
What do you think are the most important skills students acquire while working for the Cougar Kitchen?
“Life Skills! They are definitely gaining life skills, like being able to make themselves sandwiches and not having ask their parents to do it. We really want them to be more independent. For example, even washing dishes. Many things we take for advantage, they are not allowed to do at home. Using certain materials correctly like a knife are skills that are critical when they are out on their own.”
Going forward, are there any exciting menu options coming this spring?
“Yes! I get emails all the time: ‘When are you bringing back grilled cheese or are tacos coming back?’ So, we try to incorporate a lot of food that we know people will enjoy. We are thinking about making donuts for our bakery. We started to introduce Spanakopita which is a mixed spinach pie. We try to incorporate a large variety, because the FDR family has so many different ethnic groups. We are trying to bring a lot of cultures into our menu. We are also planning to make a Greek Yogurt this spring.”
Do you have anything to say to FDR Cougars?
“We appreciate all of the staff members who continue to support us! I sort of wish that we could extend the program to serve the students, but we are not allowed to due to DOE policy.”